Did you know that a human can experience around 34,000 emotions? With such a big number, it’s not a surprise that we could easily get lost when we navigate the turbulent waters of feelings.
Transitions can be a clear example of a series of emotional challenges bringing about multiple blockages that could prevent us from getting to a place that we can call home.
It’s very typical to go through different emotional states, sometimes even on the same day. We could experience denial, anxiety, shock, confusion, resignation, anger, impatience, especially if we are at the very beginning of our journey.
Let’s consider one of the areas of our life, work. Work fulfills two key functions for subjective well-being: it provides a social institution which fulfills basic psychological needs such as time structure, social contacts, a purpose, status and regular activity. It also provides a source of personal identity and meaning.
It’s not surprising why career transitions, particularly when it’s the result of a change forced upon us, can affect our self-worth, causing us to feel stressed and depressed. It feels like our whole world has completely shattered.
The emotional impact of a job loss can mirror the stages of grief that people experience with a major loss such as a bereavement. The psychiatrist Kubler Ross defines the stages as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These stages can replace each other or exist side by side at times.
Career and life transitions can reflect these stages, which is why it’s important to know that experiencing feelings of despair, anger, hostility, social isolation, loss of control, to name a few, is normal.
When we face a major change internally – which is really what transitions are about – quite often at the beginning, there’s a “disease of meaning”. A crisis enters our lives and we start asking more questions about the role we play in the world.
If we find ourselves in this place where we feel confused and disoriented, it’s helpful to take time and reflect on the emotions we are experiencing. The more we go specific about what’s going on emotionally, the better we can address certain challenges that otherwise stay unsolved because we haven’t yet been able to attain what lies behind. This is often why we tend to direct our energy to the wrong place, leading us to feel more frustrated and confused.
Identifying the primary emotions and acting accordingly can be very useful for moments of intense feeling and when our mind cannot remain objective as it operates from an impulsive flight or fight response.
Researchers have studied that emotions can influence in 5 main ways:
– Emotion Component. This is where we simply experience the feelings. It’s about observing the internal universe and recognising what is being experienced at that time.
– Action Tendency Component. Once the emotion is identified, the body moves into action. Emotions trigger certain actions instead of others. They can also cause us not to act. Some of these actions are beyond our control; others are within our control.
– Appraisal Component. When we cognitively analyze the emotion, we are able to identify situations, actions, environments or people that are causing the emotion.
– Motor Component. It’s about how we express what we are experiencing (facial expression, body movements, hand gesture, etc.).
– Physiological Component. It’s about the chemical reaction that our body experiences.
This array of emotions is more exacerbated for those of us who are not yet able to articulate what we want to do next or what we want our life to look like.
There’s a huge body of research showing that naming our emotions is really a game-changing skill that reduces negative feelings like anger or frustration have over us. When we specifically name our emotions, we become more in control of the appropriate response to them (feeling anger is very different from feeling disappointment). The more specific we go about our inner experience, the better we are able to create a plan.
Expanding our vocabulary around emotions while going through transitions can help us move away from a passive place where “things happen to us” and walk towards a more proactive place where we own our emotions, we are aware of the message those emotions are trying to communicate to us, and we can build a more effective response strategy. We can abandon the victim mindset and embrace the ownership mindset.
We start controlling where we are in the universe of emotions, we can zoom in and gradually navigate to a more constructive part of the universe by exploring more helpful emotions. We can gain clarity and guidance towards solutions, rather than a fixation on the problems that caused the dilemma or intense feelings.
Take a deep breath and learn to attend to your emotions. Give yourself the permission to be ok with not knowing. The moment you tell yourself that you don’t need an answer right now about where you’re heading to and what is going to look like when you have reached the other side of the process, you are slowly training your limbic system to be less in control, allowing yourself on a subconscious level to engage in solution-focused behaviours.
Write down the emotion you are feeling and ask yourself the following questions:
Where does your emotion come from?
When does it show up?
How does it make you feel?
What behaviours does it trigger?
What actions does it not trigger?
What do you need now to help you cope with your pain?
How could you move towards a more helpful emotion?
Navigating a major career or life change is not easy. We haven’t been taught at school the skills we need to master our transitions. The truth is going through this process by unlearning what has stopped serving us and learning to retell our story will help us rediscover the great skills we already possess and learn new skills to find a new meaning and purpose.